9 Latin Phrases People Use but Don’t Always Understand

(Last Updated On: October 3, 2018)

Latin Phrases
While many people claim Latin is dead, Latin phrases, words and terms are common in everyday language. But unfortunately, many people using these terms don’t quite understand their meaning, and sometimes use them incorrectly. Here are nine Latin phrases that you often hear — and maybe even say — but you might not fully understand.

Common Latin Phrases

1. Ad Hoc

This Latin phrase means “for this situation.” In English, it became a popular way to describe something formed or used without previous planning. You can use it as an adjective or an adverb, not as the noun itself.

2. Persona Non Grata

This phrase means “an unacceptable person.” People often use it to describe an individual who is not welcome or is not trustworthy. However, you can also use it to refer to someone who is a party-pooper — someone who ruins the mood of the party/event.

3. Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo is often used to compare something or is used when referring to a trade. This Latin phrase means something given or received for something else. Today, you’ll often hear this world in the legal system.

4. Bona Fide

The literal translation for this phrase means “good faith.” You can use it to describe something genuine, real or honest. It’s not describing a good religion.

5. Compos Mentis

This phrase means “of sound mind.” However, many individuals use it to talk about their intelligence and vast knowledge. It means “to be sane” more than “to be smart.”

6. Cum Grano Salis

This popular phrase means “with a grain of salt.” Many people use it to mean skepticism or to be cautious of something. However, the history behind this phrase is quite the opposite. Salt was a very valuable commodity and even Roman soldiers were paid in salt because of its high value. This phrase means that you should not take lightly to something— it is very important.

7. Sui Generis

This Latin term means unique and unable to classify. It describes something of its own kind. Many people use this Latin phrase to mean something that is new. And while this phrase may fit and work to describe a new item, it doesn’t for all situations.

8. Alea Iacta Est

Julius Caesar exclaimed this phrase in 49 B.C.E. when he led his army across the Rubicon River. It literally means “the die is cast.” In this phrase, die does not mean death, but instead refers to the singular form of the word dice. Cast refers to the word “throw.” This phrase means you have passed the point of no return — you have made your move, you must move forward.

9. E Pluribus Unum

This is the motto of the United States of America, yet many people don’t understand its true meaning. E Pluribus Unum means “one out of many.” This phrase describes one large item that is comprised of several smaller parts. However, the original use of the world is quite different than how we use it today. Originally, this Latin phrase was used to describe a salad dressing recipe. Freedom never tasted so good!

What are some of your favorite Latin phrases? Let us know in the comment section below!